Mark Bennett: 10 m tall singer, flowers and apple timber symbolize the attractiveness of the small Parisian city | Information columns
The simple joys of small town life and its gradual pace have a moment in 2021.
Tribune Star / Mark Bennett Big Job: Country singer Brett Eldredge’s 10-meter-high mural in his hometown of Paris, Illinois is the tallest ever by Terre Haute artist Becky Hochhalter.
Companies adapted to the peak of the pandemic in 2020 by letting their employees work online from home, and the trend has led many to continue this practice. When given the opportunity, more and more Americans are choosing to live in small towns while working for companies tens or even thousands of miles from their offices. The interest is so great that some small towns, like those in northwest Arkansas, are offering thousands of dollars to remote workers willing to move into their communities, USA Today reported this month.
According to a poll by CBS News released last week, forty-five percent of Americans say they would prefer to live in a small town or rural area. Life in the country far surpassed life in a city (25%) or in the suburbs (28%).
A mural project in Paris, Illinois this summer celebrates that appeal.
Efforts include a 33-foot painting – still in progress – of local son and country music star Brett Eldredge on the side of the downtown Goodwill building, plus two more local school kids are working on alongside the Paris Mayo Middle School art teacher and artist Millie Arp. All three are eye-catchers.
“We’re trying to get people excited about Paris and getting them here,” said Callie Keys, a lifelong resident and vice president of the Paris Improvement Organization (or PIO).
The group hired Arp and the prolific muralist Becky Hochhalter from Terre Haute to paint the colorful scenes on brick buildings around the town square. In late July and early August, Arp and a team of students made murals of an apple tree and a film quote framed by flowers. Hochhalter continues to work on the larger Eldredge mural to brave the intense heat and humidity of the past week.
The PIO organizes a “celebration of our wall painters” on Saturday from 2pm to 6pm with food trucks, music and a farmers’ market. Visitors can get to know Hochhalter, Arp and some of the participating young people.
Hochhalter’s mural shows a lyrical passage from Eldredge’s song “Paris, Illinois” and recalls the time when the 35-year-old singer grew up there. Eldredge’s 2020 album “Sunday Drive” featured the song he collaborated with Grammy-winning songwriters Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian. Eldredge shot an accompanying video in memorable locations in Paris from his childhood. The poetry depicted on the mural reads: “To be there in the morning would fill my heart with joy; See the courthouse, feel the sunshine in Paris, IL. “
A two-story likeness of Eldredge overlooks these words and towers over the east side of Main Street.
“I have to think of my hometown [Terre Haute]. Everyone who comes from a small town means a lot to him, ”said Hochhalter on Wednesday afternoon, who was standing next to Eldredge’s wall feet.
Eldredge and his family appreciate the mural and Paris too. Eldredge has racked up five number 1 hits on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, the 2014 Country Music Association New Artist of the Year Award, seven platinum-rated singles, two gold singles, and two gold albums, and now lives in Nashville. Nevertheless, Paris remains big in his mind, as the song of the same name and the video prove.
Tribune Star / Mark Bennett Past Meets Present: Young artists this summer painted this mural on the side of a building in downtown Paris, Illinois, Flamme Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman.
“He is very grateful for the continued support,” said his father Chris Eldredge on Thursday. Brett visited Paris last week on his way to a show in Peoria and saw the early stages of the mural. Above all, he noticed the height, explained his father. Brett’s parents now also live in Tennessee but know the role of the Paris community in their son’s career.
“We all know that it was the support of our community that gave him the confidence to embark on the professional journey he is on. It is a great honor for all of us to see it celebrated this way, ”said Chris Eldredge of the mural. “Even though we live in Nashville, we’re so grateful that we can always call Paris home.”
The portrait of Eldredge in Hochhalter’s mural is from photos taken by him specifically for the artwork. It’s painted on the south exterior wall of the Goodwill building. Goodwill has closed the Paris business, said Meredith, president and CEO of Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries, but it still owns the building and approves the mural. It will feature Goodwill’s smiling G logo.
The outline of Eldredge makes this one-footed mural the tallest in Hochhalter’s career. Her 10 meter high mural celebrating the MyPath Trail System adorns the Spencer Coffee House in Owen County. She now has murals in 10 different cities, including six projects this year. In short, Hochhalter’s largest, “extremely detailed and interesting” mural will be in a location in downtown Terre Haute that she has not yet been able to reveal.
One block north of her Eldredge design is a mural completed a few weeks ago by teacher and artist Millie Arp and some Parisian kids on the south wall of the Shooters Bar. It shows rays in two shades of orange shining in the direction of flowers native to Illinois and the Midwest, with a quote from the 1943 classic film “Casablanca” – “We will always have Paris”. Humphrey Bogart’s character pronounced this line on Ingrid Bergman’s character. Bogie was referring to the French city, but the feeling applies to Paris, Illinois, of 8,300 residents.
“I just wanted something positive behind it,” said Arp of the election.
On the west side of the square is her mural depicting an apple harvest scene with a tree, wheelbarrow, and swing. “It was a lot of fun,” said Arp. She also wants to do three more murals for the PIO next year.
Her student team included Callie Keys’ niece and nephew. Keys lived in Paris for all of her 29 years, with the exception of four at the University of Illinois at Champaign. A former nurse, she now works for her family’s business, Keys Manufacturing, which makes cattle feed and pet treats. Her family is “extremely proud of Paris,” a place where “there’s always something going on or where you meet someone new,” she said.
The efforts of the murals are an example of this feeling.
“There are so many people who care about it right now and are trying to make it better and a good place for people,” Keys said.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or [email protected]